Indigenous and rural Ecuadorans blocked roads in several provinces Wednesday on the second day of protests against soaring fuel prices amid a countrywide state of emergency.

On Tuesday, 37 people were arrested and five police officers, a journalist and at least one demonstrator were injured in the largest protests since conservative President Guillermo Lasso took office in May.

Two soldiers who had been held by protesters since Tuesday were released Wednesday night after intervention form the Red Cross.

"Out with Lasso, out!" the protesters demanded Wednesday, as they blocked key roads.

Ecuadorans are protesting amid a 60-day state of emergency declared to deal with rising violent crime Ecuadorans are protesting amid a 60-day state of emergency declared to deal with rising violent crime Photo: AFP / Rodrigo BUENDIA

"The government has messed up, pushing fuel prices up all the time," protester Dennis Viteri, a 28-year-old textile worker, told AFP at Calderon, northeast of the capital Quito.

Viteri and others used soil, tree trunks and burning tires to block portions of the Pan-American highway, which connects Quito with Colombia.

Ecuador's public safety department said there were also roadblocks in the provinces of Imbabura, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Chimborazo.

Protesters in Cotopaxi were subjected to "strong repression," march organizer the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) said, with its president Leonidas Iza warning that "more violence will anger people."

Officials said about 1,500 indigenous people, students and workers marched in the capital Quito Officials said about 1,500 indigenous people, students and workers marched in the capital Quito Photo: AFP / Cristina Vega RHOR

But Lasso said that on Tuesday, "the armed forces and police secured control and order with respect to the demonstrations without violence."

"They did the same today, and if the marches continue tomorrow, then we will maintain control," he added.

On Tuesday, protesters had disrupted traffic in five of Ecuador's 24 provinces and vowed to continue voicing their anger at the new center-right government's economic policies.

Protesters used soil, trees and burning tires to blockade key roads Protesters used soil, trees and burning tires to blockade key roads Photo: AFP / RODRIGO BUENDIA

"We ask the government to keep the fuel price fair," said Juan Chusig, an unemployed man dragging branches to reinforce a barricade north of Quito.

"It is hurting the people."

Reducing fuel subsidies, which began under former president Lenin Moreno, is one way for Ecuador to shrink spending in exchange for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

President Guillermo Lasso is facing a parliamentary investigation over Pandora Papers revelations that he allegedly hid millions in assets overseas President Guillermo Lasso is facing a parliamentary investigation over Pandora Papers revelations that he allegedly hid millions in assets overseas Photo: AFP / Rodrigo BUENDIA

But the price increases bite as Ecuador battles economic hardship worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Poverty now affects about 47 percent of Ecuadorans and nearly a third do not have full-time work.

Last Friday, Lasso announced another 12 percent increase in fuel prices, which have nearly doubled since last year -- bringing the price of diesel to $1.90 per gallon (3.8 liters) and that of petrol to $2.55.

Lasso vowed this would be the last increase, but could not assuage simmering anger in a country that exports oil but imports much of the fuel it consumes.

The president, a former banker, invited the indigenous protest leaders to meet with him at the presidential palace next month, his spokesman said on Twitter Wednesday evening, echoing an earlier call for "dialogue."

Conaie, credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005, wants the price capped at $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for petrol.

"We have nothing to survive on, the pandemic has hit us too hard. We are trying to... have a dignified life as promised by President Lasso," said Hermelinda Pilaguano, 51, in the San Francisco de Oyacoto neighborhood of Quito, where protesters were stoking fires.

Officials said about 1,500 indigenous people, students and workers marched on the capital Tuesday, where rock-throwing protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas.

On Wednesday, the Fundamedios press freedom body said eight journalists had been assaulted over the two days of demonstrations.

An Ecuadoran journalist died while covering a protest Wednesday, it added, after falling off the back of a van while filming.

Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency last week to tackle rising crime and violence blamed on dueling drug traffickers in the country nestled between the world's two biggest cocaine producers: Colombia and Peru.

The state of emergency, decreed after some 240 gang-aligned inmates were killed in prison clashes since January, allows for deployment of troops to help fight a crime wave that last week also claimed Ecuador's 200-meter sprint world bronze medalist Alex Quinonez in a shooting in Guayaquil.

No limitations were imposed on gatherings or protests.

On top of Ecuador's many challenges, Lasso faces a parliamentary investigation over Pandora Papers revelations that he allegedly hid millions in assets overseas.

Indigenous people represent 7.4 percent of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants.